In his speech to AIPAC last night, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described his approach to Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace. The speech left all of us at APN skeptical about the sincerity of the Prime Minister's commitment to peace - a commitment that will be judged not by Netanyahu's skill in laying out his own "peace paradigm" but by his policies and actions. Specifically,
the speech raised serious concerns that we hope Netanyahu will dispel when he meets with President Obama later this month:
- Netanyahu failed to articulate support for the two-state solution. He spoke about process but failed to offer the kind of political horizon necessary for such a process to have credibility.
- Netanyahu ducked two "make-or-break" issues for any peace effort: settlement expansion in the West Bank, and settlement expansion and the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. The absence of any statement on these issues raises a "red flag," given recent comments by Israeli ministers that indicate Israeli government support for continued settlement expansion and demolitions.
- Netanyahu capped his speech with the argument that peace is impossible unless the Palestinians "recognize Israel as the Jewish state..." This is a red herring. As noted recently by Dov Weissglas, Chief of Staff to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "...Israel is a Jewish state. It is the Jewish state. It does not need the recognition of the Palestinians-or of any other country. According to the road map, the final status negotiations are to end in the establishment of a Palestinian state, which must recognize Israel, as Israel has defined itself. It will therefore recognize Israel as the state of the Jews. The demand for recognition now is like creating a problem where none exists. It is neither dignified nor believable."
- Netanyahu spoke of improving ties with the Arab world, but failed to acknowledge the Arab Peace Initiative. He also failed to mention the Israel-Syria peace track.
If Netanyahu is serious about peace - and serious about maintaining good relations with the Obama Administration - he should use the upcoming meeting with President Barack Obama later this month to clarify his commitment. If he is serious about working to achieve peace, he will use this meeting to:
- Unequivocally embrace the two-state solution without adding new conditions for peace.
- Commit to freezing settlement expansion, Jerusalem home demolitions, and other acts that destroy the credibility of any peace efforts.
- Embrace the Arab Peace Initiative as an important basis for making progress toward Israeli-Arab peace.
- Commit to re-launching Israel-Syria peace negotiations and achieving an Israel-Syria peace agreement.
If Netanyahu makes clear that he is serious about peace, APN will happily support his efforts. Until then, we remain skeptical.